Justin Cronin speaks to AUS students
By Jerusha Sequeira
SHARJAH -- The best thing an artist can have is the freedom to fail, best-selling novelist Justin Cronin told an audience March 6 at the American University of Sharjah.
Speaking on his novels and the challenges faced by many authors, Cronin said that when he started writing his book The Passage, there wasn’t much pressure on him to succeed.
“When I started writing The Passage, I had a good teaching job,” Cronin said. “I could fail at whatever I wanted to do as a writer.”
The American author, born and raised in New England, has written four novels, namely Mary and O'Neil and The Summer Guest, as well as two books of a vampire trilogy: The Passage and The Twelve. Cronin was in the UAE as part of the recently organized Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, where he was a speaker at two sessions.
Justin Cronin, New York Times bestselling author of The Passage and The Twelve
Art vs. commerce
Publishers often push authors to keep writing similar books, Cronin noted, due to a conflict between commercial and artistic interests in the industry. “The commerce side wants writers to basically acquire one audience and keep that audience.”
“I don’t like to write the same book twice,” Cronin said. “With each book I wanted to do something a little different.”
“I was asking readers to go steady,” Cronin said, adding that his books were generally long. “A lot of novels are a beautiful but brief encounter.”
Left to right: Israa Tariq, Justin Cronin, Marziah Rashid
Creating Characters and Suspense
Cronin also discussed the process of fleshing out characters and how he liked to keep the action going in his books. “I wanted to write books in which my characters were running for their lives at all times,” he said.
“I fell in love with all of my characters,” he added, commenting further on his relationship with the protagonists in his books. “I really wanted their whole story, their whole life.”
“My relationship to them is the same as God’s relationship to people,” he said. “They’re your creations, you must love them. You must love their flaws, love their virtues.”
“I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I create a character. Put some dirt on the hero, put some sunshine on the villain,” Cronin said, advising aspiring writers on how to flesh out interesting characters. “Know what they’re not telling anyone. You have to know that secret that they have. When I know those things, they start to kind of grow.”
Inspiration behind his books
Cronin told the audience gathered that the inspiration behind his vampire novels came from his daughter. According to Cronin, his daughter, who was seven at the time, once confided in him that she felt his books were boring. Father and daughter then began to brainstorm ideas for a new book he could write.
However, Cronin said he soon realized he was enjoying the process. “The story got to be much more interesting and more fun than the rather melancholy and lugubrious novel I was writing at the time,” he said. “It touched my inner kid.”
Although he had “no intention of doing anything with it,” Cronin said he went on to pen the first chapter of the story. “And I never looked back from there.”
“A crazy business”
The novelist admitted to a lot of competition among publishers to acquire the rights to his book. But he noted that it wasn’t always a good thing when a bidding war broke out over books.
“This can be a disaster,” Cronin said. “What happens a lot of the time is that the price is totally inflated and that editor or that publisher wakes up the next day and says, ‘What have I done?’”
“The book will fail because their feelings about it are just really bad,” he said, adding that he had several friends who earned “a ton of money” for books they wrote that later proved to be unsuccessful. “Publishing is a crazy business, and it makes no sense at all.”
However, he referred to the example of another writer who wisely stopped the bidding process midway and refrained from selling her book for too much money. “She was nobody’s mistake.”
Advice to budding writers
Aspiring authors should always seek to “do something that is interesting,” Cronin said. But he emphasized that the golden rule of writing was persistence.
“Writing is like any job. The first rule is that you have to show up. Nine-tenths is showing up,” Cronin said.
“You’re working on a novel and you know it’s bad, finish it anyway,” he said. “Everybody has to write a few bad ones first.”
Almost anyone can be a writer, Cronin added. “If you have read a lot of books in your life, if you have any kind of talent for this which I feel most people do, you can write a novel that somebody will want to buy.”
Jerusha Sequeria is a 21-year-old Indian student in her senior year at the American University of Sharjah. She is majoring in Mass Communication with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in English Literature. She will be graduating this semester and hopes to graduate magna cum laude from AUS. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career as a journalist in print news. She is a feminist, a proud member of the Grammar Police, and a stereotypical Virgo. Her short story, “Between Hello and Goodbye,” won first place in the Oxford University press story competition of 2014.